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ROBERTS AND BOLTON ON THE KIRKHEAD CAVE. Cell 



On the Kirkhead Cave, near Ulverstone. By John Bolton, Esq. ; 
with an Introduction by George E. Roberts, F.A.S.L. 

INTRODUCTION. 

Mr. Bolton's notes upon this bone-yielding cave, which I have 
arranged to form this communication, appear to be of some interest 
and value. Although we cannot claim this inhabited cavern as a 
dwelling-spot of any remote antiquity, yet the record of its contents 
cannot fail to be of anthropological as well as of archaeological 
value. 

The geological history of the cavern is simple. Caverns in lime- 
stone rocks belonging to the carboniferous series are numerous, 
wherever that formation is developed, whether in England or Ireland ; 
in most cases they have communications with the surface above, either 
by a fissure or cleft in the strata, or in connection with the stratigraphy 
of the rock. It appears most probable that in the case of the Kirk- 
head cave the earth, which nearly filled it, dropped in from above, 
through an opening which stalactitic productions afterwards closed. 
Mr. Bolton has worked very industriously in the cave-earth, in com- 
pany with Mr. Morris, whose interesting notes upon it are appended to 
his remarks, and Mr. J. O. Middleton, to whose care and kindness 
we have before been indebted. 

G. E. R. 

The cave which I am about to describe is situated on the western 
flank of Kirkhead Hill, on the west shore of Morecambe Bay, at a 
point about six miles from Ulverstone. The hill rises abruptly from 
the sea-shore, within a quarter of a mile of high-water mark, to the 
height of two hundred and sixty-four feet, and is composed of moun- 
tain limestone. The entrance to the cavern is eighty-five feet above 
high-water mark, the inclination of the hill from the cavern's mouth 
downwards being 65 degrees. I have been acquainted with it for 
about ten years; my first visit being in 1853. On that occasion I 
was accompanied by my friends Mr. J. O. Middleton, and Mr. Sal- 
mon, F.G.S. We found the height of the cave at its mouth to be 
three feet ; consequently admittance could only be gained by crawling 
in on hands and knees. Beyond the mouth, the height of the roof 
varied from eighteen feet, at the part nearest the entrance, to twelve 
feet; the length of the cave we found to be forty feet, and its width 
twenty feet; the area consisting of one irregularly oviform cham- 
ber. 

No communication between the roof and the surface of the rock 
above was apparent; though the thickness of the brushwood which 
clothed the hill rendered any investigations difficult. From the shape 
of the cave, it appeared to have been a natural reservoir for waters 
permeating through the rock, both from the surface and from springs ; 
such communications having been extinct long before its occupancy 
by man and the smaller carnivorous mammalia. 

The floor of the cavern, when thus first visited, was composed of a 



Cclii JOURNAL OF THE ANTHROPOLOGICAL SOCIETY. 

brownish-red indurated clay. The two labourers who accompanied 
me made excavations in this to the depth of seven feet, over an area 
of about fifty square feet. The clay contained many angular frag- 
ments of mountain limestone, probably fallen from the roof of the 
cavern, and a few pebbles of Upper Ireleth slate, or of Coniston flags, 
varying in size from a walnut to an orange, and derived, probably, 
from rocks which are situated northward. These were all water-rolled. 
We also found in the clay a considerable number of mammalian and 
bird bones. At the depth of four feet, a portion of the right parietal 
bone of a human skull was thrown out. Continuing the excavation 
to a depth of seven feet, we obtained another human bone, which 
proved to be the second lumbar vertebra, and the radius and ulna of 
a young human subject. Below the cave-earth, we came to a floor of 
stalagmite. 

On my return to Ulverstone after this exploration, I submitted the 
bones to Mr. Beardsley, F.G.S., F.A.S.L. I believe no visit to the 
cave has been paid since until very recently, when I have again visited 
it, and made further diggings into the cave-earth. Amongst the 
bones obtained at various depths on this occasion, are several jaws of 
badgers, and other bones of that animal, together with bones of fox, 
wild cat, goat, kid, pig, and boar ; and, at a depth of three feet, a 
large and strong humerus of man. My friend Mr. Morris, who accom- 
panied me, found three human teeth, and fragments of human bones, 
together with a tusk of wild boar, and a portion of large deer horn, 
about a foot in length, and ten inches in circumference at its extremity 
for articulation with the skull. 

Scattered through the clay were many fragments of stick, burnt at 
one end, as if from the remains of fires ; these, though interspersed 
through the whole mass, were more abundant towards the bottom of 
the deposit. In the stalagmite beneath the earth, which I then broke 
into, were several pieces of wood -charcoal. 

The upper part of the cave earth yielded to Mr. Morris and myself 
some interesting evidences of the later human occupancy of the cave 
which Mr. Morris has described in a lecture lately delivered before 
the Ulverston Mechanics' Institute. There was also found a rude 
bone implement resembling a knife, a piece of carpal bone of goat (?) 
two inches long, having a round hole through it, as though it had been 
suspended as an amulet ; together with several fragments of pottery 
rudely burnt, similar in composition to ancient British cinerary urns. 
The plans which I send you of the cavern are to scale. 

The following extracts from Mr. Morris's lecture, add somewhat 
further to our knowledge . — 

Upon digging into the floor it was found to be a heterogeneous com- 
pound of bones, earth, charcoal, angular fragments of limestone, with 
water-worn pebbles of blue slate. After disentombing a quantity of 
bones — amongst which were several human ones, consisting of the 
right and left parietal bones, femur, radius, ulna, and many others — 
the first object of interest discovered was a fragment of ancient pot- 
tery. It was of the rudest type, and bore no traces of the potter's 
wheel, nor of kiln drying. Progressing farther into the cave and 



K0BEKT3 AND BOLTON ON THE KIKiniEA.I1 CAVE. Ccliii 

skimming as it were the surface, he found a Roman coin of the Em- 
peror Domitian, covered only by a few inches of the soil. Here was 
a proof that for the last 1800 years the cavern had been undisturbed. 
A few inches deeper a portion of an axe was found ; it had no doubt 
(on account of its weight) gravitated the few inches. A hammer and 
a knife blade were also found under similar circumstances. From the 
discovery of these articles, he inferred that they had conclusive evi- 
dence of the occupancy of the cave during the Roman period ; if not 
by the Romans themselves, at least by some tribe of the wild Bri- 
gantes having intercourse with them. Starting, then, with the as- 
sumption that the physical aspects of the cave existed in the time of 
the Romans, under much the same conditions as they do at present, 
it follows, as a matter of course, that the deeper they went, if any 
traces of human occupancy were found, they would be of an older race. 
At the depth of about four feet he found a portion of an ox rib, 
formed into a knife, or similar instrument. Professor Busk, who had 
kindly determined all the bones submitted to him, has marked it as 
being ' cut or sawn with flint.' He next exhibited another portion 
of a small rib, from the same level as the preceding one ; it bore 
unmistakeable evidence of human manufacture, probably being an 
arrow-head. A singular bone relic accompanied it, of which Profes- 
sor Busk said, ' This is a metatarsal bone of the pig, young, made as 
I think into a whistle. The reason I think so is because the whole of 
the interior is cleared out, which would not be the case were it merely 
to be hung on a string as an amulet. Though not made exactly in 
the same way, yet many similar bones converted into whistles have 
been found in the south of France belonging to the reindeer period.' 
Other fragments of bone with human handiwork upon them were 
found, but in so fragmentary a state that the sculptured design could 
hardly be made out. At the distance of a few feet from the entrance, 
there occurs a large block of stalagmite formed by the droppings from 
the roof; upon breaking into it there was found at a considerable 
depth, a layer of charcoal closely embedded, and a few bones, but so 
comminuted that only one portion of the under jaw of the pig could 
be determined. Under a thin bed of stalagmite, a little to the left side 
of this bank, was a boar's tusk, and a little to the right, under the 
same conditions was found a portion of the large red deer's horn. 
Near the same place there occurred the frontal bone of a human cra- 
nium, with a portion of the nasal promontory intact, and in close 
proximity the right and left parietals joined by the suture. About 
the centre of the cave, and at a depth of from six to seven feet, were 
found two unmistakeable stone implements, they are of the rude, un- 
ground type, and similar to those found in the oldest bone caves." 

The thanks of the meeting having been voted to the authors of the 
Paper, 

Mr. G. E. Roberts said he had not been able to bring the flint im- 
plements found in the cave for the inspection of the meeting, neither 
had he been able to obtain part of the bones mentioned as having been 
submitted to Prof. Busk. All the other specimens of bones that had 



ccliv JOURNAL OF THE ANTHROPOLOGICAL 80CIETY. 

been collected were on the table. The chief interest which these re- 
lics from the bone cave possessed, consisted in their showing many 
successive periods of occupation by human beings. It was conjec- 
tured that the Roman coin and the implements of iron had fallen 
through the roof of the cave at a subsequent period to its occupancy. 
They were found near the surface of the cave earth, and bones were 
discovered at successive depths till the stalagmite flooring was arrived 
at ; and even in that formation some bones were found. It was pro- 
bably a cavern of rapid accumulation and not of very great age ; but 
it was important to state the results of the exploration of any cave 
containing the bones of man or animals that had occupied it in 
early periods of human history. Among the bones were a num- 
ber referable to the badger, which were found at the very bottom 
of the deposit. They were stronger and longer than those of any 
typical badger of the present day. Mr. Roberts further stated, in 
reply to questions put to him, that he did not know at what depth 
in the cave-earth the pottery was found. The flint implements were 
of the ordinary type, of the rudest manufacture, rough and un- 
polished. 

Mr. Carter Blake said the human remains found in this cave 
differ in several important respects from those generally discovered in 
caverns in the north of England, and still less did they resemble those 
in the Heathery Burn case in Durham, where the human bones found 
indicated that they were those of men of a lower type. These dif- 
fered from them, however, in the development of the frontal sinus, 
which in most of the skulls was entirely suppressed. These remains 
were apparently those of a distinct type of man to those from Heathery 
Burn ; but judging from the large quantity of animal matter that was 
present in the bones, he considered that they could not be of very 
great antiquity. 

Mr. John Middleton explained the discovery of the cave by two 
labouring men in the first instance, and the difficulty which was expe- 
rienced in gaining access to it. 

On Human Remains from Peterborough. By C. Carter Blake, 
F.G.S., F.A.8.L., and George E. Roberts, F.A.S.L. 

Mention is made in the Register of Peterborough of the importa- 
tion of the plague from London in 1665-6. The burials of persons 
who died took place in a field near the town, still called the " Pest- 
house Close." In making a new road, a great number of these bodies 
have been dug up ; they appear to have been interred without coffins, 
and with no regularity. The two skulls which we have obtained 
possess slight cranial variations from ordinary types, sufficient to 
render one, at least, of interest. 

No. 1. This is a skull, long and dolichocephalic in form, without 
marked elevation of the parietal tubers. The curve of the frontal 
bone is equable in its direction, and is evenly continuous along the 
sagittal suture until about its middle, where it becomes depressed, in 
the mode which M. Pruner-Bey alleges to be common in Celtic skulls;